Harvard Social Enterprise Conference 2018 – Build, Scale, Fund, and Innovate

Social enterprise isn’t a line of work. It has morphed into a way of life. With more and more people around the world becoming interested in the social impact of their work as well as every-day life, it is only natural for organizations around the world to take notice and pause to reflect on how they are optimizing their resources for positively impacting the communities around them. I love this interplay, between intent, sustenance and even functions and roles. This is what has made me interested in becoming an active part of the dialogue around Social Impact and Enterprise in platforms that bring together people from different backgrounds and skill-sets.

The Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, SECON as it is known in short, was one such platform I had heard great reviews about, and I wanted to dive into the opportunity of navigating through and learning from the conversations around social enterprise and impact. Interestingly, this year’s conference, the 19th Annual version explored the tension between mission and profit, and the key dynamics to think about when looking for sustainable financing as well as operations. It is not enough to have a strong mission or intent, it must translate into attracting and retaining the right resources, especially finances, a question many of us grapple with. Everyone sets out to seek to comprehend how mission and profit compliment, strengthen, or even undermine one another. And that is what the Turner Family Center enabled me to dive into through this memorable opportunity and experience. I am glad I was able to push through an intense semester and secure TFC’s support in making this possible.

The SECON ‘18 was hosted at the Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. It had four different tracks that follow the lifecycle of a social enterprise – Build, Scale, Fund, and Innovate. At any given time during the two-day conference (10th and 11th February 2018), there were multiple sessions of each track happening simultaneously. Moreover, one key element of these sessions were the workshops that were held each day, exposing the participants to ideas as well as the platform to implement them in real time and disperse into teams and continue with that essential dialogue and learning. One session that stood out for me was the MIT Solve Challenge, which was a condensed version of the Global Competition that aims to address urgent questions regarding impacting of climate change on vocation, transitioning work environments as well as the integration of diversity and equity towards optimizing social enterprise outcomes. Another very engaging session was on Design Thinking, and it mapped out an entire canvas to follow while consulting for a real business in Morocco, pushing us to think in the context of an environment completely different from ours. Conversations around getting government ambassadorship, securing funding, and managing human capital challenges, as well as non-profit best practices, were only a few of the many interesting sessions happening.

It was easy to tie in this experience and the learnings to my current degree of Leadership & Organizational Performance and see how impact is evaluated and how leaders can play a key role in how they pivot the organizational efforts towards growth and improvement. Talks like the opening Keynote by Matt Forti from the One Acre Fund were reflective of such ideas as well!

It was impressive to see people from all over the world had traveled to be part of this event. I had the pleasure of meeting practitioners and students from across the US as well as countries including, but not limited to, Canada, Japan, China, and Egypt. It was heartening to see the common energy and passion among all these people, reiterating the fact that we might be outwardly different, but we still are battling the same challenges and the world is more globalized than we estimate it to be.

I would recommend this conference 100% to anyone who is interesting in meeting and learning from new people, engaging in stimulating discussions about Social Enterprise, and solving intricate but urgent problems that face us all. Special thanks to fellow TFCers Dia Chakraborty and Asad Ali Aslam for motivating me to apply for attending the conference and learning from it!